The request, from the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce and MetroTransit and endorsed by the Oklahoma Transportation Department, follows talks started earlier this year at a chamber retreat where light rail was listed as one of the city's next priority projects.
Gary Ridley, Transportation Department director, said Tuesday both Oklahoma City and Tulsa area leaders have been encouraged to apply for funding to study the potential for light rail systems.
"There have been pros and cons discussed would it work, would ridership go up and where would routes go? My feeling is in talking with both Tulsa and Oklahoma City that until we have a true study ... you won't know if it's feasible.
Istook, R-Warr Acres, could not be reached for comment Tuesday, but in a letter to the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce he repeated his opposition to light rail, saying he wants to focus his effort on funding the $350 million realignment of the Interstate 40 Crosstown Expressway.
He warned the city would have to pay 55 percent of the construction and 100 percent of operating costs for a light rail.
"Oklahoma City is rated as the fourth-least congested large city in the country, Istook wrote. "Do we need expensive rail to relieve nonexistent congestion?
Promoters of the light rail system say they are looking at the city's future needs and how to continue momentum started with the Metropolitan Area Projects revival of downtown.
A copy of the Oklahoma City application obtained by The Oklahoman on Tuesday shows construction of a light-rail system linking downtown, Tinker Air Force Base, Edmond, Norman and northwest Oklahoma City would cost an estimated $452 million based on studies completed by the state a decade ago.
Dean Schirf, the chamber's vice president for government relations, said a committee looking at the city's public transit recently told Istook a light rail system is needed to serve Tinker, where parking is limited, to help increased enrollments at area CareerTechs, colleges and universities, and to aid major employers.
"This is a new day in Oklahoma City, Schirf said. "We have invested millions of dollars in public facilities in the central business district, both public and private, and more is planned. These are all new major destinations.
At least 3,500 new parking spots are being built downtown by the city, county and private developers. Further investments, Schirf said, can't be made in parking without taking money away from other capital projects.
MetroTransit Director Randy Hume said his request seeks authorization of $9 million toward planning and design of a light rail system as part of a six-year authorization bill to be considered within the next year. Hume said the agency's application does not limit the authorization to light rail, and could apply to dedicated highway bus lanes or other mass transit improvements.
Hume said his agency is spending $300,000 on an initial feasibility study, and the requested authorization would allow designs to proceed in the next six years if the city were to pursue a light rail or other fixed-route transit system.
Mayor Kirk Humphreys on Tuesday endorsed studying the costs of light rail and said the city's public transit system is inadequate.
"Intuitively, it seems to me light rail isn't going to make a lot of sense because people are so married to their automobiles, Humphreys said. "I don't know if I'm right or not, though, so I guess that's why a study might be helpful.
In 1996, Istook opposed a previous effort by the city to use $3 million in MAPS funds to obtain a federal match to build a light rail through downtown. In its place, he successfully sought money for rubber tire trolleys that link downtown and the Interstate 40/Meridan Avenue hotel corridor.
Since then, Istook was named chairman of a House subcommittee that oversees transportation spending. His office repeated its opposition to light rail when it dominated discussions at a chamber retreat last winter.
"Light rail really received a lot of attention, the chamber's Schirf said. "It comes back to us how do we proceed? We first have to get a study first. ... Congressman Istook is in a very powerful position that could certainly bring about money for a study for Oklahoma City.